We continue our tour of fall camps opening around the SEC with the Auburn Tigers:
Who's going to throw the ball?
The Tigers didn't exactly figure that out last year, but the hope is that Auburn finds the magic it had under Nick Marshall a few years back. A year removed from Marshall's last season with the Tigers, and Auburn's offense dropped from 485 yards per game to 370. Points fell from 35.5 per game to 27.5. Oh, and Auburn won just seven games. Gus Malzahn must find the right quarterback who can frustrate defenses with both his arm and legs. Running is an essential part of the quarterback in Malzahn's offense. Neither Jeremy Johnson nor Sean White did much of that (combing for 172 rush yards compared to the 1,866 Marshall had from 2013 to 2014). Right now, JUCO transfer John Franklin III seems best suited to take on that mold, but will his passing ability hold up? And are Johnson and White done? Malzahn says no, but significant improvement must be made by both to get back on the field.
How will Kevin Steele impact the defense?
Under defensive guru Will Muschamp, the Tigers ended the 2015 season ranked 11th or worse in scoring defense, passing defense, rushing defense and total defense. Auburn allowed 5.7 yards per play in and 416.8 ypg in SEC play. Naturally, both of those numbers were near the bottom of the barrel in the SEC. In steps Steele, who just left an LSU defense that was a top-five unit in the SEC last year. But, hey, Muschamp had a top-eight defense nationally for the majority of his four years in Gainesville, so Steele also has his work cut out for him. The good news is that the defensive line is stout, with Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams headlining it, the linebackers could be much more athletic than we've seen in the past, and there are a couple of playmakers in the secondary.
Is the pressure going to mount on the Plains?
Back in 2013, Malzahn debuted with a trip to the national championship. Since then, The Tigers' win totals have dropped from 12 to eight and down to seven last season. Yes, Malzahn had runaway success in his first season as Auburn's head coach, but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, Malzahn's squads have floundered. Even though Malzahn received a contract extension this summer, if the Tigers can't show that they are making steady improvement in 2016, athletic director Jay Jacobs will have a tough decision on his hands concerning the future of his football program. And things start off pretty tough for the Tigers, as they face Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU within the first four weeks of the season.